Sunday, August 21, 2011

Coconut-Banana Popsicles

A fortunate coincidence occurred in my kitchen this weekend, thanks to a half-empty can of coconut milk and a few fast-ripening bananas.

These creamy, tropical-tasting pops can be tweaked easily depending on what's in your fridge. Substitute plain or vanilla yogurt, or perhaps add some peanut butter and honey. Taste before pouring into molds and adjust sweetness as needed.

3/4 cup light coconut milk
3 large bananas
2 pkgs. Dannon Light & Fit Toasted Coconut Vanilla yogurt
2 tbsp. agave syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt

Add all ingredients to blender and blast until smooth. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze. Makes about 10.

Not sure why but these do not slide out of the mold as easily as others I've made. While still in mold, run under hot water about 15-20 seconds and let sit for a minute, flexing plastic if you can, before releasing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dinner with Sandra

Sandra's Chilled Avocado-Buttermilk Soup with Crab Salad
Nacho, served with our take on watermelon agua fresca
About a year ago, I took a class on Latin Street Food offered at a Williams-Sonoma store. I expected to be served samples of what was demonstrated but was surprised to be served a memorably delicious and generous meal.

It was the first time I'd eaten food prepared by Sandra Gutierrez, a Cary-based chef who mentioned that night that she was working on  her first cookbook. Today, with The New Southern-Latino Table in hand, I plan to enjoy many more meals with her help.

I was fortunate to receive a preview copy of her book, from which I made a delicious summer dinner on Sunday, a few weeks before its official release by the University of North Carolina Press. While filled with temptations, I noticed the recipe for Chilled Avocado-Buttermilk Soup with Crab Salad Nacho when I first flipped through its pages. Except for the crab, I had most of the ingredients on hand, making it an ideal first try.

I can't quote ingredients, but suffice it to say the soup is a completely no-cook affair that should be prepared at least an hour before meal time. I will say that it called for a pinch of cayenne, which I was surprised to discover absent from my spice rack. We substituted about a half-teaspoon of Peruvian Chile Lime Seasoning. After tasting just before serving, we decided it needed a bit more zip and added a splash of hot sauce.

Tim made the soup and the crab salad, which exemplifies Sandra's signature of blending Southern and Latin flavors. We also made a substitution here: while she recommends claw meat only, we opted for less costly backfin instead. The larger chunks will deliver a more handsome presentation, but we were satisfied with the tasty results.

At showtime, the creamy soup is topped with a fresh-made torilla chip that serves as a sort of float for a dab of crab salad. I'd never made my own chips before, but I will again. I used corn tortillas made by Tortilleria Calientitas, which has one of those automated tortilla-makers common to Mexico but a rare and welcome sight in Raleigh. A baker's dozen, wrapped in paper while still warm, was just $1. The shop, which hopes to open a small restaurant in coming months, is located in the Walmart plaza at 1725 New Hope Church Road.

The combination, served with remaining chips and crab salad on the side, was as tasty as it was pretty -- and we made it even prettier with an agua fresca made with a lovely orange-fleshed watermelon Tim scored at the State Farmer's Market. Made with just pureed melon, lime juice, a little sugar and ice, it was the perfect accompaniment to a delicious meal -- just the thing to raise to toast to a local chef sure to become a national name.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Peach cobbler, hold the cobble

Tim declared last night that we must eat our remaining peaches before their sweet juiciness suddenly converts into something furry and far less appealing. I've been eating at least one of these gems daily with my lunch, and sometimes another while making dinner, but I would never balk at a third pitch -- especially a stone-free Elberta with barely detectable fuzz.

While we all agreed that peaches would make a perfect dessert, the puzzle was deciding what to do with them. Pie or cobbler was too much effort. We had just consumed a fabulous but starchy dinner of take-out Peruvian chicken, sweet plantains and indescribably delicious black beans and rice from Mami Nora's, our new favorite splurge. By splurge I mean caloric, not cost. Our massive feast -- including a luscious horchata for the delivery girl -- was about $27, and there's still plenty for a hearty lunch.

With the goal of minimal prep and maximum flavor, I opted for a roast to bring out their natural sugars. I just cut them in half, removed the stones and arranged on a pie plate coated lightly with vegetable oil spray. I drizzled the halves with agave syrup and placed in a 425 degree oven for about 25 minutes -- just enough time to lie down and recover from my splendid if indulgent dinner.

The peaches were browned in some spots and shimmery with red puddles of juice-tinged agave in others. A poke with the tip of a sharp knife released a fragrant dribble of nectar, so I quickly transferred them to serving bowls with a dollop of Greek yogurt and an extra drizzle of agave. It was kind of like cobbler without the cobble, and so soothingly lush that Graham didn't even gripe about the yogurt.